Peace Corps year 1

index, month 11

Times the village TV has been turned on since Alahji returned to Spain: 1

Minimum number of clandestine card playing sessions held while the heads of household were out of the village: 4

Motorcycles (not mopeds… motorcycles) bought by my village father: 1

Lowest temperature observed in my hut, in degrees Fahrenheit: 74

Approximate hours during the day that people go without eating or drinking, in observance of Ramadan: 13

Trainees from the new group who have ET’d, out of 44: 5

Heinekens I was forced to drink with dinner at Massa Massa because they no longer carry the fantastic Belgian beer: 3

Times I ate ice cream while in Thies: 5

Sessions in which fellow PCV Hannah and I brought the trainees ice cream to bribe them into a) being awake b) liking us: 1

Trainers who told me they thought I’d be the Aggie from my stage to ET, because I was “quiet”: 1

The TV. It’s awfully purty just sitting there being shiny and ridiculous, but it requires gas to power the generator to power it. And gas costs money, so without Alahji to hand someone the cash to buy fuel in Tamba, it has only been run once. I was, naturally, summoned for tech support, which called for hooking the generator, converter, and tv cords up in the correct sequence; figuring out that the remote batteries were dead; and preventing Tali from poking a knife into an extension cord socket. Then soccer was watched, and there was much rejoicing.

I spent the week before last in Thies, playing the role of the wise and wizened (or maybe just rumpled and slightly dirty) Volunteer for the new group of trainees. It was their third week of PST, the time when wide-eyed optimism is, for some, fading to the dazed squint of a person subjected to three and a half hours of language class five days a week. And there are still five weeks of training before they swear in and go to their sites.

Poor bastards. I tried to be encouraging, but it was difficult when all I could think was “Damn I’m glad I never have to do this again.” PST runs on an exhausting schedule, convinces you you’ll never learn your language, and chips away at rosy preconceptions about Peace Corps life and work. Add to that the pressure of pleasing your host family, waiting for site announcements, and scuffles with admin, and it’s a miracle anyone makes it to swear-in. But they do, and this seemed like a pretty savvy group. Lots of guitar players.

Thies was an odd place for me that week—a year through service, I was halfway between the newly-arrived trainees and the COSing volunteers who were also there as trainers. It seemed equally possible that I had never left PST (trying not to cry in language class or fall asleep in cross-cultural sessions) and that I was already on my way out (overearly nostalgia for the village, last-minute panic about leaving). Neither was true, of course—instead I’m this strange in-between, giving reassurance to one group while seeking reassurance from the other.

I was proud in an indignant sort of way when Youssoupha told me that I had surprised him by not ETing. Apparently, for the Senegalese, quiet = unhappy = going to leave. Bah.

4 replies on “index, month 11”

Dear Clare. I for one am not surprised that you did not opt to leave. It always seemed to me from your blog and especially from the pictures that you sent that you were doing well, and looked happy to be there. Keep up the good work. And you’ll be seeing your parents before long. They are really getting excited I think. Love, Ma Ma.

My daughter is one of the new trainees in Thies. It has been so helpful to visualize her experience by following along with your gallery of photos. Thank you for sharing.

you probably just didn’t fit a stereotype. do they have the loud, obnoxious american stereotype there? or is it the loud, overly idealistic american?

Well, Fatimata told me that I could never been a good volunteer because I was shy. And Malcom (is he still around?) told me the reason I struggled in language class was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. So I guess maybe PC Senegal staff isn’t always as encouraging as they could be. It’s good to know you aren’t letting it get to you too much. 😀 (p.s. I used to be at Gretchen’s site – Travis’s wife if you ever met him)

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